Atheism and the design of the universe
Another night on the streets and discussions with the atheists. This time with Peter and Paul (not their real names), and the conversation went something like this.
I had finished a bottle of Diet Coke, and as I stood there holding it in my hand, the discussion began concerning interpretation of data—the ‘facts’. This is not the first time I’ve had this kind of discussion with these two characters. But sometimes you can step into the same topic a different way and get a better result. Tonight was such a night.
Now the discussion had turned towards the creationist argument that ‘no one was there historically to observe what went on.’ Peter and Paul were keen to establish that that argument went in both directions, that it applied to creationists as well as atheists. I agreed the argument went in both directions, but there were some other issues to be considered.
I was tempted initially to go down the path of ‘God was there’ and turn it into a discussion yet again on the existence of God. I resisted, and went in another direction. Sometimes it’s necessary to sidestep an important argument temporarily in order to make your case somewhere else.
I held the plastic Coke bottle up and suggested we view it as a fossil. Both the atheists and myself had the same data in front of us. None of us were ‘there’ historically to observe what happened, so we had to find a way to ‘interpret’ the data in front of us—my imaginary fossil.
Very quickly Peter and Paul suggested we would need more information in order to interpret this ‘fossil’. I agreed. All of us would need additional information in order to interpret the data.
But what if the other information we had was wrong? Could we still ‘interpret’ this fossil with incorrect data? Of course not, they agreed. But the ‘scientific method’ had within it steps to check and confirm the accumulation of data collected along the way, they reminded me. I agreed that might be the scientific method, but these two atheists were about to learn a lesson about jigsaw puzzles.
“To a mathematician infinity is simply a number without limit. To a physicist it’s a monstrosity. … It means the collapse of everything we know about the physical universe. In the real world there is no such thing as infinity. … Total nonsense … This is a nightmare beyond comprehension.” —Prof. Michio Kaku
Richard Dawkins was once asked to provide a single sentence that he thought could cause a creationist to doubt their view on creation.
His answer was to look at the similarity in the genes and see the resemblances. These, he said, formed a perfect hierarchy. However, For Prof. Dawkins, the perfect hierarchy are evidence of evolution, not design. He gives no reason for this conclusion, but makes it anyway. In fact, if it was designed, then the designer deliberately created in such a way to confuse everyone, according to Prof. Dawkins.
There is no infinity in the finite order of existence, argue the physicists.”
Then he goes on to allege that a creationist said, “even if all the evidence in the universe pointed towards an old earth, I would be the first to admit it. But I would still be a young earth creationist, because that is what holy scripture teaches me.”
“You cannot argue with a mind like that,” alleges Dr. Dawkins. For such a mind is “a disgrace to the human species.”
Professor John Lennox was recently in Australia — again. He’s a popular visitor to the land ‘down under’ because of his debates with atheist Richard Dawkins. It’s an interesting clash of professorial titans, since both of them held or still hold professorships at Oxford University. But while he was in Australia, Prof. Lennox was interviewed on the question of the age of the earth and the days of Genesis by Simon Short, a Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. That interview can be seen here: The 7 Days That Divide the World.
What is remarkable in this interview, however, is John Lennox’s defense of his view of Genesis chapter one as being longer than 6-days, i.e., six twenty-four periods of time. It’s remarkable because of what Prof. Lennox did say, and sometimes what he did not say. For example, he attempted to justify a metaphorical reading of the ‘days’ of Genesis because the Bible uses metaphor, and the example he uses is the reference to Jesus as a door. This is no doubt a metaphorical expression. But Prof. Lennox is surely begging the question to then suggest that the ‘days’ of Genesis are also metaphorical. This is what he is supposed to prove in his argument. But all he’s done is assume metaphor in one place allows him to read metaphor in another place. But what rule of biblical hermeneutics requires that? What has happened to the notion of context? If you follow Prof. Lennox’s ‘logic’, then it is possible to read metaphorically any time you don’t particularly like the non-metaphorical implications of a particular passage.
One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1-2.” —R.C. Sproul
And then, of course, there are the uses of the word ‘day’ in Genesis, which Prof. Lennox highlights. It means one thing here, perhaps 12 hours, another thing there, say 24 hours. And so it does. And in each case he uses context as the mechanism to understand how the word ‘day’ ought to be understood. But nowhere does he show contextually that the ‘days’ of Genesis are long periods of indeterminate time. He refers to ‘Hebrew scholars’ who apparently affirm that the ‘days’ of Genesis are not literal 24-hour periods. The trouble with this argument, however, is that there are Hebrew scholars who say otherwise. James Barr, wrote to David C.C. Watson in 1984,
‘… probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
a. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
b. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
c. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.’
Barr was a neo-orthodox scholar who did not necessarily accept what the Scriptures taught, but he seems certain that what they taught was a literal 6-day creation. So already we have a problem. I wonder which Hebrew scholars Prof. Lennox can be referring to? Dr. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on the Westminster of Faith, admits that he used to hold to the frame-work hypothesis, but no longer holds that view.
R.C. Sproul and the Age of the Earth
Some books are good. Some are bad. And others are disappointing. In this last category, I put a new book, A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture, by Keith Mathison..
Dr. Sproul (Snr)’s Dust to Glory DVD presentations (57 lectures in all) are a unique and important survey of the Bible, highlighting particular issues from the section under discussion. In the Consequence of Ideas lectures (and book by the same name), Dr. Sproul provides a broad survey of Western thought, from Thales through to modern times. This is a difficult and thorny subject area, but Dr. Sproul breaks it down into bite-size chunks to make the points very clear. Although limited in its scope, it is a very important summary of Western thought that explains our world.
One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1-2.” —R.C.Sproul
Dr. Sproul’s venture into apologetics is highlighted by his presentation of the Cosmological Argument in his book, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology. This is a superior presentation and explanation of how to make use of the Cosmological Argument, and there is a very favorable review of this book to be found here.
Now I am a fan of Dr. Sproul, which is why I find the book by Dr. Mathison somewhat ‘out of character.’
In this book the author presents the views of R.C. Sproul on science and Scripture, and in particular, the age of the earth. The origin of the book stems from a question about the age of the earth asked at the 2012 Ligonier conference and R.C. Sproul’s answer to that question. Apparently Dr. Mathison, or someone at Ligonier Ministries, felt Dr. Sproul’s opinion needed defending.
Here’s Dr. Sproul’s short answer to the question: “I don’t know.”
Does the Unbeliever Have a Handle on Things?
According to the believer, all the facts of the universe are what they are because God made them that way. Thus, in the mind of God, all facts are related. The world of nature, thus, is therefore revelatory of God.
According to the unbeliever, the facts of the universe are what they by chance, and they are certainly not revelatory of any God. If the facts of universe are in any way related, they do so by sheer accident, not by design. But the scientists will apparently be able to discover the abstract facts of the universe and eventually tell us how they are related.
And just how will they do that? For if the universe is what they say it is, they cannot get off the ground in determining the nature of the very first fact and how it might be related to anything else. For unless they know one fact exhaustively, they can’t be sure they can move to the next fact to get a connection which they would also have to know exhaustively so that they are certain they have the right relationship defined.
But their dilemma is great. How can the unbeliever be certain that his mind and its alleged rationality is in fact rational? And how does he know that his perceptions of objects is in fact a real perception and not just something he has imagined? And how can he claim that the laws of logic, which according to him are themselves abstract ‘facts’, be shown to have any connection to the other facts of the universe?
It is thus only because the Bible is true on the nature of factuality—God created—that the unbelieving scientist makes any progress at all. For if he follows his own principles, he won’t get very far.
Perhaps nothing is more contentious today in religious, philosophical and scientific debate than this question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” On the one hand there are believers in the biblical account of a purposive creation by an always-existing God. On the other hand, there are those who assert there was no creation at all. The universe just ‘is’. In other words, the question is contentious because of the opposing answers that it generates.
When the Street-Preacher mounts his podium, he should expect to address this question. For someone in the crowd at sometime will eventually make use of the word ‘evolution.’ This word has a narrow meaning in relationship to biological evolution, and a broader meaning when used by itself without a qualifier. But the implication is that the universe spontaneously generated itself into existence. That is, it evolved from something to something else.
Further, there will be some people in the crowd relying on a view of science who will claim that the hypothesis of God and creation is not falsifiable and therefore cannot be a valid hypothesis concerning the existence of the universe. Such a view, however, usually ignores formal logic and the use of the laws of logic as analytical tools that can, and do, falsify many statements. Logic is ignored because too many in the scientific community have convinced themselves that the empirical scientific method is the only valid road to knowledge. This view is not itself obtained by the scientific method, but is, rather, a philosophical commitment, one that is falsified quite often by those who make the claim when they resort to philosophical conclusions rather than empirical ones.
Logic is ignored because too many in the scientific community have convinced themselves that the empirical scientific method is the only valid road to knowledge.
The place of logic as a formal analytical tool has been somewhat downgraded in modern times, but its importance is nevertheless undiminished. If the laws of logic are no longer valid then any statement or conclusion can be made and there is no way of determining its meaning. Something without meaning is absurd. If a statement can be both true and false at the same time in the same relationship, the statement is one without any meaning whatsoever. If a bachelor can be both married and not married at the same time, then the word ‘bachelor’ has lost any meaning and communicates nothing at all.
There’s always someone who wants to say ‘yes.’
But is this true? Is YEC really “destroying” the church? I don’t think so, and I’ll explain as we go.
But research by the Barna Group has apparently identified the conflict between Christianity and science as one of the factors leading to young people leaving the church. The Barna article says in part,
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.”
Now I am quite certain that “science” is an issue, but not in the manner as presented here. Or as promoted by Karl Giberson in his article on the Barna study in the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson, who presents himself as teaching “science” to evangelical Christians for 25 years, lets us know his position very early, when he says that the idea of the earth being only around 6,000 years old is “refuted by mountains of evidence.” If you think Dr. Giberson is a “neutral” observer in the debate, simply remember he has written a book entitled “Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.”
And then he has the audacity to suggest that Creationists drive young people out of the church? Really? What else are they supposed to believe considering the opening words of the Bible, “In the beginning, Elohim created. . . .”
So what are they supposed to believe? That the universe simply popped into existence of its own volition?
There are no prizes for wrong assumptions, and if there were, this would be one of the leading contenders. To say that the trouble in the church is caused by people believing the Bible is laughable. But ever since the Copernicus-Kepler-Galileo alleged “proof” for a sun-centered universe, believers in a literal Bible became a vocal minority. It was not until Einstein’s General Relativity rescued heliocentrism from the scientists and said science cannot prove the case either way, that the Biblical literalists could be taken seriously again. In the meantime, Darwinianism was also paraded as the scientific “proof” that the Bible could not be trusted.
Maybe, however, the opposite contention is the true one. That it is a failure to take the Bible literally and seriously (and, yes, figuratively and metaphorically when necessary) that is the root cause of the major demise of young people out of the church. Examples abound. The Scriptures declare to “keep” the Sabbath day holy, and too many turn the Sabbath day into a shopping excursion. The Bible says no usury, but Christians are happy to lend at usury as often as possible for as high a rate as they can get. Abortion is murder, but how many professing Christians are willing to take their turn at the abortion clinic, or are unwilling to object when relatives and family head for the abortion clinic in the name of “family planning.” Or is it really in the name of “getting rid of the evidence”?
One thing appears apparent: that those who have committed to the devil’s lie that the words of early Genesis should not be taken literally are part of the problem, not part of the solution. And there lies a simple test to see who’s identification of the problem might be the correct one. A denial of a literal reading of Genesis One is nearly always accompanied by a denial of other important portions of Scripture, especially the Law of God (Torah). It follows that if the Bible is not to be read literally at Genesis One then it should not be read literally at Genesis Three or Exodus 22 either. And what should be done with Deuteronomy 15 and the tithing requirements?
You can see the pattern. First of all deny the Torah is to be taken and applied literally today. Once that problem is out of the way, then simply approach the rest of Scripture the same way. Soon you too will be able to declare, like Dr. Giberson, that it is not necessary to believe in a literal Creation as described in Genesis One to be a Christian.
It follows: no Creation, no fall, no Torah necessary, no second Adam necessary. We can instead all get in a holy huddle and just “love” Jesus.
Meanwhile, Islam continues to be a growing threat to a church that cannot figure itself out concerning creation. And when some Muslims and I were talking recently, and joined by an agnostic/atheist who denied Creation, it was the Muslims who argued against him before I could get a word in. And I’m not usually slow at getting a word in. 🙂